The Future of Working Remotely

With productivity increases during the pandemic, many organizations are planning to implement some sort of hybrid, virtual model of work; Part at-home, part in-office. According to a McKinsey Global Institute report for 2,000 tasks, 800 jobs, and nine countries, hybrid models of remote work are likely to continue to persist. However, these will primarily be available for the highly-educated, well-paid sector of the workforce.

Prior to the pandemic, technology was one of the greatest limiting factors for remote work or hybrid work models. With only 10% or less of the US labor force working remotely, the pandemic signaled a large shift. Now, both cultural and technological shifts have broken through the potential barriers to working from home.

A McKinsey survey came to the conclusion that more than 20% of the workforce could work remotely three to five days a week. Not only does this have an impact on the way workforces, meetings, and client relationships are run, it will also affect economies, transportation, and the population present in larger cities.

For many, living in a city (with a high living cost and public commute) is more of a necessity than a desire. With remote work, that could change entirely. According to the Wall Street Journal, remote work is turning smaller cities and communities into ‘Zoom towns’ that are able to compete with what we think of as business hubs – LA, New York, Chicago, and Atlanta. Many cities, slightly less expensive but still metropolitan, like Miami, Austin, Charlotte, Nashville, and Denver look better and more accessible with remote work.

While these cities are inexpensive now, there is the chance that the common rent price will reverse, going from high to low in large cities, and increasing in smaller ones.

Based on research by Apartment List, monthly vacancy rates have been rising in Boston, Washington, Seattle, San Francisco, San Jose, California, and New York. Whereas in those same places, rent prices are falling sharply to deal with the changes in demand. Contratily, rent has been rising in Fresno, Calif., Chesapeake, Va., Boise, Idaho, Albuquerque, N.M., Gilbert, Ariz., and Greensboro, N.C.

Before the pandemic, many of these locations were working to develop strategic initiatives to entice newcomers and workers. Many utilized cash incentives, while others offered to cover moving expenses. Particularly for students entering the workforce for the first time, this provided a significant reason to move to a smaller city.

Now, with work remote, there may not be a necessity for these initiatives. Rather than focusing on payment for moving, many cities will transfer those funds to building interesting and complete ecosystems for people to work in. Focusing on the adaptation of cafes, restaurants, and parks into desirable work locations is likely to encourage newcomers itself.

For those who remain in larger cities, public transportation usage is likely to change significantly. With a required commute only two to three days a week, the amount of traffic is likely to decrease by a substantial amount. This change signals great things for those working from home – less time spent commuting, less money spent on transportation, more time with family, friends, or working on hobbies. However, for those who make their living running said transportation, it could signal a number of less than desirable changes.

That being said, many major companies are already adjusting to these changes, including Zillow, Salesforce, Slack, and Nationwide Insurance. Remote work lends companies a number of benefits, including saving money in office space and relocation costs and greater access to talent. Without required relocation, companies receive a greater variety of applicants and have greater flexibility with pay and benefits.

One drawback – a few companies have broached the idea of reducing salaries for employees who live in low-cost locations. While others have made it clear that workers won’t be penalized for their living expenses, this is something worth considering when looking at potential jobs and companies.

While these companies have embraced the changes, more than half of the remaining workforce has no opportunity for remote or virtual work. With jobs requiring machinery, making deliveries, or giving performances, it is hard to transfer to a virtual format. Typically, these are lower wage jobs, or jobs requiring less education.

Not only that, many of these jobs are at risk from automation, themselves. With AI technology and manufacturing machinery becoming more and more advanced, it is hard to warrant spending money on training and paying new employees.

Along with people who can’t work remotely, there are some who simply don’t want to. Many employees have happily rejoined the workforce and office environment after being stuck at home for months on end. Many relish the opportunity to avoid the chaos of home life and enjoy seeing coworkers in person again.

That level of interaction is something that is going to be hard to develop in a remote workplace, and something that companies are working on adapting to. Those who work remotely the majority of the time are left with a number of questions. How will they get trained for their job? Will they develop the same relationships with their coworkers that they would in-person? Will they enjoy their job, or will it feel like a chore to complete at home?

The future of remote work is full of uncertainty, but there are a few things we know for certain. If you want it, there are opportunities to work from home – good opportunities that will offer the same, or better pay, than working in the office. If you are looking to move to a smaller city, whether you are working remotely or in-office, there will be jobs available. With the mass exodus of employees from larger cities, companies and commerce are moving too. And, if you are looking for something that fits your lifestyle and level of education, you will be able to find it.

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